Author Archives: jarrodgrabham12

The Sunshine of Our Day

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By jarrodgrabham12

             Universities are like clocks: they don’t budge an inch unless the smallest of cogs is in perfect place. Behind the scenes at the George Washington University there exists an army of hardworking individuals that help keep the ‘show on the road’. Often, the stories of these people go untold:

Since I have been studying in the basement of Gelman I have come to notice that at regular intervals a trash trolley will pass me by. The lady who pushes the trolley is kind looking. Calm and consistent, day after day, goes the trolley. Apart from the whirl of the trolley wheels as it passes by, you would never know she was there. Gloria is her name. Gloria is just one of several housekeepers responsible for ensuring that students have a healthy, happy and clean environment that will nurture aspiration and academic potential.DSC00893

Gloria, not wanting to promote herself, introduced me to Veronica Franklin, a bubbly, motherly lady  who is the head housekeeper of Gelman Library. Veronica very kindly shared her story with me and I discovered that working in a silent environment, such as a library, can have its challenges. Often students, in their pursuit of obtaining academic excellence, pass housekeepers by without acknowledging them. So…

“…so, you know, I like to break it up a little. Every holiday, and they will tell you, ‘Veronica is going to come in here dressed as something representing the holiday’. Two weeks before Christmas I have stuff on every day and…” she pauses for effect, grinning like a Cheshire cat, “for the finale… they are just waiting, not sure what I’m going to come in as!” Once, for Halloween, Veronica came to work dressed as a cat. Whiskers and all.”Im told quite often by the people that work here: you are The Sunshine of our Day“.

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Whether it be the carpet, spills, trash, the bathrooms, picking up year-lost books, housekeepers are kept busy from dawn till dusk.

And I’ll tell you another thing, Veronica asserts, “just because somebody is a housekeeper doesn’t mean they’re not smart. I could work in an office at a computer as a secretary but it would drive me crazy. I’ve got to be able to move around. I love what I do. And I love the people that I do it for. I dont care that sometimes we don’t get acknowledged at a higher level as we should…

And then our conversation turned to a topic that I had not expected to discuss.

 Under President Obama’s administration I have seen a lot of change. I’ve seen people being able to…”, she breaks to gesture to the two of us, sitting together in the basement of Gelman,”…this, you know what I’m talking about? This exchange, it changed under Obama. The dynamics of it changed, and for the better. I think it’s wonderful.” 

Then I brought up the hottest topic of all: TRUMP.

“Oh! I am so frightened of the mere thought of that happening. How can we go from Obama to Trump? How can we do that? That is unspeakable.” The Sunshine of our Day pauses again, this time contemplating life under an arrogant billionaire. “Chaos. That’s what it would be like. There is absolutely, positively nothing good that could come of that. I feel like I’d like to go to another country. It’s that bad.” 

Veronica may not stay on as a housekeeper forever. She has already been here for twelve years. Others, like Gloria, have been housekeepers at GW for more than twenty years. Veronica concludes,”I’d love to do social work. Anything where I’m helping people. That’s what I do…I love to help people“.

Outside the Library, the Japanese cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom. Few are aware that one of nature’s little miracles is transpiring in Kogan Square. Life is like that. If we look closely, flowers are always blooming in the background. It’s about knowing the right places to look. Back in the basement, silence is broken. It is the whirl of wheels. And the flower passes on by.

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Engine Company 23

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By jarrodgrabham12

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In the dead of the night the siren wails. A tricolor of pulsing flashes filter through the blinds. Somehow, somewhere in D.C. a smoldering fire has erupted in bright brilliant flames. The siren is answering the call of a concerned grandpa or a watchful mother. Among the fire trucks tearing down the highway is Engine Company 23. It joins weary eyed ambulance and policemen and women; the trinity of emergency services is complete. These service providers are the backbone of any community. There is no hierarchy, each needs the other to function fully.

Every day for the past two months I have sauntered past a historic fire station in Foggy Bottom. The very architecture of the building breathes history. The first week of term I was aware of the fire stations presence on campus. The second week I began to see familiar faces around the station, washing the ‘mother of the station’, firetruck 23. After eight weeks of walking past its walls, I felt I had to dig deeper.

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Today I entered the station.

“Can I help you?” a friendly voice asked. He would later introduce himself as Fireman Shaun Weiner. Fireman Weiner, perhaps in his mid 30s, with piercing blue eyes, kindly offered to show me around the station. I was fascinated by what he shared with me.

“Engine Company 23 was established in 1910. This was the original fire station from then until now. Come over here…” Weiner beckons.

Do you see that blue paint?

Yeah…

Look closely, what do you see?

I see grooves, like marks.fireman

“What you’re looking at is the kicks of horses hooves from a hundred years ago.

And in my ignorance- “what were horses doing in a fire station?”

Horses used to pull the steam pumper, a cart with a boiler attached to it. By feeding wood into the boiler, steam would be produced and this would  create pressure that would pump the water.

Well, I thought, mum and dad were right when they used to say that the old days were tough – back then they used fire to fight fire!

“A lot of stations have spiral staircases… do you know why?”

No Sir I don’t…

Well, in the days when they had horses if you didn’t have spiral staircases then the horses would run right up them!

In my mind I envisaged cheeky chestnut Clydesdales nibbling on carrots after a hard night out.

Weimer introduced me to Lieutenant Lancaster, the head of the fire station. He invited me into his office and shared some moments from his career.

 

My great grand daddy took the fireman exam three times. They never let him in. Afterwards it was a tradition in my family to join, and I had several relations who did”.  

Lieutenant Lancaster wants to retire in good health. After thirty years dedicated to keeping DC safe 24/7 it is a well deserved dream.

Engine Company 23 has been part of several historic fire fights, including participating in the efforts to contain the fire caused by the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

Concluding my tour with Fireman Weiner I asked one final question in regards to the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Those piercing blue eyes veered off into the distance in deep reflection and then looked back to the inquisitive Australian standing before him.

This job makes and takes friends

And that’s all he had to say about that.

We shared a little more about our two respective cultures, shook hands and bid each other good day.

As I walk out of the fire station’s gates I turn around. I have gained a deeper respect for the gallant men and at one time, horses, who have inhabited the walls of Engine Company 23 for the past one hundred and six years. They have made a difference every day. Today has been a personal meeting with every day heroes. My eyes are caste high above to the watchtower. At some point some able fireman had the task of climbing the five stories of stairs to chart the quickest route to reach engulfing flames. Beneath the watchtower on the Italianate limestone frontispiece I see Old Glory flutter nobly in the wind. I hear the neighing of the countless teams of horses that served to save. I think about Fireman Weiner’s parting words. For firemen and women their job is more then an occupation, it is family. It is a duty. Suddenly the spectacle is broken: somewhere in the distance a siren begins to wail.

 

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The 2016 D.C. Travel and Adventure Show

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By jarrodgrabham12

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. “

                                                                                                                                               -Mark Twain

Last weekend the National Convention center in D.C. housed the Travel and Adventure show. This enormous roll out of literally hundreds of little stores promotes everything from world cruises to how best to hit up individual cities. As an amateur traveler with a passion for going to off the beat ‘n track destinations, I felt like the time bugs bunny got abandoned on Carrot Island. I went nuts. Armenia, Jamaica, Bolivia, Grand Cayman. Grand Cayman? Is that on Mars or Jupiter? I don’t know, but why not. Are you interested in going to Iran, Sir? You bet. In goes another pile of pamphlets. There were live performances of exotic cultural dances that enlivened the senses and awoke curiosity from its slumber. The burritos were muy delicioso.What I enjoyed most was the fact that not one travel store pressured you to sign up to its offers. What’s more, to enter the convention you only had to pay the miserly fee of $11.00. However, small as it is, the payment is necessary for it restricts the exhibitors from being overly zealous in pressuring you to go north to Alaska, or wherever.

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I met the author of “1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die”, Patricia Schultz. Schultz’ book is one of the best selling travel books of all time, probably due to the highly  persuasive style she adopts. I bet you can’t read a single chapter of her book without contemplating, even momentarily, to drop everything and make your way to the nearest airport. She makes us ordinary folk aware that there are so many exotic tourist destinations just waiting to be explored. A meet and greet moment with Schultz was a highlight of my time at the Travel and Adventure Show. She is a heroine of 21st century travel and gives her patrons a warm fuzzy feeling inside; she makes you feel completely at ease. Whether it be books, calendars, audio or giving live presentations, Schultz’s mark is very stylish and recognizable. Thanks for the opportunity, Patricia.

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As I made my way through the labyrinth of travel stores I stumbled across a man standing between a BMW GS motorbike and a van. It sparked my curiosity instantly. “Hi, I’m Alan Karl” he said confidently. I’d never heard of him. He told me some of his story and I was hooked. Alan travelled the world for 3 years on his BMW, visiting 65 countries. He collected recipes, stories and took marvelous pictures along the way. Upon his return he wrote a best seller Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. It is one of those books you reach for when a big storm is coming, the lights go out and your snuggled down in bed listening to the crackle of a wood fire. His story transports you onto the road with him. To the crystal clear salt flats of beautiful Bolivia. To the torrid swamps of Africa. I was not leaving the Convention Centre without a copy of Forks. Where I’m going to store it in my luggage when I hit the road though is another thing… 666444

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New York, New York

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By jarrodgrabham12

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The emboldening Statue of Liberty, the majestic Empire State Building and some lucky lady delighting in the age old tradition of eating strawberry cheese cake amidst a sea of yellow cabs: this is what so many of us perceive New York to be. This past weekend I set off with two of my friends from Bolivia, Carla and Alison Saavedra, to discover if this were true.

We fulfilled a large amount of the items on our bucket list. Here is a sample of some of them:

See a broad way show: TICK (We saw the Phantom of the Opera, it was spectacular! Tip: look on line if you want to get the best deals. We got fairly good seats for like US$47.00! Normally they are $120.00).

Selfie in times square: TICK (Tip: watch for pickpockets as your eyes are distracted by the flashy  lights).

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Cucumber sandwiches with Donald Trump in Trump Tower: AVOIDED  (Can you blame us? Besides, the old geezer was out of town anyway).

A photo with the Statue of Liberty: TICK (Well, kind of. You see if you take the Staten Island ferry its free, but the downside is that the ferry passes by Liberty Island from quite a distance).

 

 

A photo with the ‘Wall Street Bull’ by sculptor Arturo Di Modica: TICK. (This very realistic sculpture is said to represent the testosterone of the American economists and stock brokers. Considering the American economy is 19 trillion dollars in debt I wonder whether a large “I O U” sculpture would be more appropriate?)

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Try a New York street vendor’s hot dog: TICK. (Tried it?! After 2 paracetamol, a litre of water and a 30 minute rest in the nearby MET museum, its probably more appropriate to say that I survived the experience… I think the sausage wasn’t cooked properly? Frank Sinatra sang in his famous song New York, New York that, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere”. I wonder if the same applies in a culinary sense?)

Hit up some of New York’s famous art/museums: TICK, TICK and TICK again. ( We visited the Guggenheim Art Gallery; housing the legendary Thannhauser Collection, the Museum of Natural History; where the movie ‘Night at the Museum’ was set, and the Metropolitan Museum. The Guggenheim art gallery prides itself in displaying art with meaning so hidden that even Alan Turing and the experts who decoded the enigma machine during WWII would fail to decipher even the simplest abstract work exhibited. The New York Metropolitan Museum, otherwise known as the MET, was my favorite by far. In one afternoon we were able to peer upon the mystical face of an Egyptian Pharaoh’s death mask and then admire the works of the classical artists Renoir, van Gogh and Monet, among others. All this, just for a small donation!)vangough

 

Have afternoon tea with Big Bird: FAIL. (We couldn’t find it! But can you tell me how? Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Actually, come to think of it, I did see a big bird, hanging upside down in a front window down New York’s famous Canal Street, Chinatown).

 

 

 

 

 

OK. So, I managed to accomplish the majority of the things on the to do list. But does that mean that I have really experienced the city? No. Not at all. Taking a photo with the Statue of Liberty or eating cheese cake in Time’s Square doesn’t make one anymore acquainted with New York than does thinking you know the intricacies of a 1000 page book’s plot by scanning its back blurb. To know a city one has to live there. One has to interact with the people. After all, it is the people that are the soul of a city and not the empty edifices of its surrounds. The highlights of my time in New York were none of the above. The real highlights were the brief and momentary interactions I shared with everyday, metro riding New Yorker’s. A glance. A smirk. A G’day. A simple time of small talk with a hotel clerk about the poor weather. Sharing a joke with a homeless man who was singing desperately outside the Guggenheim, as the fluffy white snow drifted carelessly down his neck, a neck that probably hadn’t laid on a soft pillow since Ronald Reagan was President. Having the hairs of my neck stand on end upon hearing how Justin our hostel attendant’s father just happened not to make it to his office the morning of 9/11.

freedomShouted lunch by a kind family of Bolivian first generation Americans in an Ecuadorian restaurant in Queens whilst listening to how the father, Lucho, slowly made his way to the top. Attending a non-denominational church service  in central Brooklyn with a room full of strangers that felt like long lost family. This was New York for me.

 

I’ll have to go back another time to read the other 900 pages…nyce

 

Bokamoso, an inspiring African Youth Choir

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By jarrodgrabham12

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Last Friday evening the George Washington University’s Marvin Centre theatre became the location of a cultural crossroads. On one side of the highway of life was the audience from the Western world. We brought to the table first world problems such as, “what color should my new BMW be?” and “why is Apple taking so long to release iPhone 10?” Facing us on the other side of the civilization juncture was the Bokamoso Youth choir from Winterweldt, South Africa. “Ubuntu”-meaning the interconnectedness at the heart of our humanity- is the word the organization uses to summarize itself. It is a very apt description.

It was a sobering experience for the Western world contingent. We observed the spectacle before our eyes with great curiosity. Narratives illustrating the challenges facing Africa’s youth today prompted the realization that our first world problems are insignificant. The effectiveness of the message was exacerbated by skillful dance and harmonious song. We were made aware of some of the prevalent issues facing African youth today. Topics explored included the treatment of immigrants, poverty, gender inequality, high unemployment and the complex balancing of traditional rites of passage with modern life.

The US creative team behind the music composition, screenplay and dance choreography are to be highly, highly commended. The delicate interplay between humor and tragedy, perceived realities and cold fact, had the audience at times in fits of laughter, at times in quiet reflection. Such artistic mastery can rarely be experienced for an entrance cost of just US $10.00.

I particularly enjoyed the performance because I had briefly interacted with some Bokamoso members when they came to a GWU University Singers’ rehearsal earlier that week. They taught us the African spiritual ‘The music of the LORD’. Our voices in collective harmony spoke of the power of unity. We left the bleak confine of the Phillips rehearsal studio basement with an avid aspiration to save humanity from itself by spreading the power of unity through song. Ubuntu!

You can learn more about this excellent organization here: http://www.bokamosoyouth.org/

Operation ‘Shadowed Horizon’

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By jarrodgrabham12

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CIA Head of Desk: “Director, we have a problem.”

CIA Director: “Yes?”

CIA Head of Desk: “South Sudanese ground troops are rapidly mobilizing on the North Sudan border.”

CIA Director: “Oh. Well. Let me see. Maybe, before you head out to procure that second thin crust pizza with extra pepperoni, olives and non-salty sardines, perhaps you’d better send a message to control.”

CIA Head of Desk: “Umm…I guess so huh…”

This is an insight into the 5 hour dialogue that occurred this past Saturday (30th Jan.) within the confines of the Rome-Phillip building at George Washington University. Up to 100 students from not only GWU’s elite Elliot School of International Affairs, but also military colleges such as the Navy School at Annapolis, who were dressed smartly in cadet uniforms, I might add, gathered to participate in an exciting crisis simulation. Code name operation ‘shadowed operation’, the goal was to create effective solutions to humanitarian building issues in Central East Africa.grop

I was given the position of ‘Head of Desk of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) in Nairobi, Kenya’. Apart from running for extra pizza and soft drinks to keep our weary minds alert, I was responsible for ensuring human and satellite intelligence was being kept up to date for our operatives and to HQ back in Langley, Virginia. It was a fascinating experience for all involved, without a doubt one of the highlights of my time at GW so far. This was especially the case when I was given permission to order the dropping of some several thousand propaganda leaflets over south western Somalia to help counter radical Islam, namely the group Al-Shabaab.streets

 

Disappointingly we didn’t get the opportunity to do something extra-ordinary such as sending in the 101st air borne paratroopers, or signaling superman to descend majestically to save the day. The simulation was a great experience for me nonetheless because in its ordinary-ness it was believable. It mirrored reality, down to the bureaucratic headache which is the American Administration. For students who thought that they could quickly end poverty and bring about world peace, the simulation very successfully conveyed the complexity of the issue to all involved. This was a sobering experience for international affairs students from this “get it now” generation. We all realized that solutions to serious problems such as poverty and state building take longer than expected and we were reminded of that old adage: patience is a virtue.lincoln

(All that said, one of the neatly dressed navy college students “Casey 16” convinced us, the CIA, to lend her a secret operative to assassinate South Sudan’s president. The attempt failed miserably and our operative was allegedly tortured. Well, it was our first day on the job after all… )

 

 

Apart from Saturday’s fling with an Independence Day style mission, this past week was just a regular week, really. On Thursday about 10 of us went to one of DC’s best Spanish restaurant “Jaleo”. This was apart of Food Week, where you could get a three course meal for only $35.00. The chili shrimp was particularly delicioso with its stirring marinade and subtle sting. I’m not sure about the others-and I’m not game to ask honestly- but for me Jaleo’s spicy chili shrimp was the unexpected legacy of Food Week. The subtle sting lasted longer than the hour of fine dining, I can well assure you. Oh, and I almost called our waiter Manuel at one point; he was short and from Barcelona, just like that notorious Spaniard out of Fawlty Towers.”¿Qué?”

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MarieMarie Jolly, an eighteen year old French exchange student who hails from Troyes, invited some of us exchange students over for a crepe party Saturday night. For someone who Majors in International Business boy can she fry up a mean crepe. The divine smell of French cooking took me back to our family vacation in Paris in the Summer of  ’13. O la la! It was an altogether pleasant evening, especially when Marie shared the exciting news that she had been ranked number one in economics at the prestigious business school she attends in Paris. I assured her that some day she would be France’s first female President. With her in this important position and me as the head of desk for the CIA in Nairobi, Kenya, running around getting pepperoni pizzas for the Mission Director, collectively, alumni of the George Washington Spring exchange ’16 would rule the world. Suddenly, our dreaming was distracted and there was a return to our college student manifestation: le tour de crepe-plate-washing-up had begun…

 

 

Jonas the Snowzilla

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By jarrodgrabham12

2016

I am hurrying to catch the metro, short of breath. Behind me I am pulling my 85 litre travel bag stuffed with warm clothes and study materials for the next few days, or weeks. Snow storm “Jonas” is coming, you see, and there is no knowing how big he will be or what mood he will be in when he finally decides to drop by. It could last for days. Nobody knows. Coming from Australia, I am unaccustomed to copious amounts of white, fluffy snow interrupting my study routine and by extension conveniently granting me, and most folk in the north eastern states of the USA, a three or four day weekend. Pity about all those missed classes…

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Washingtonians are getting ready. Employers have rented hotel rooms for their staff so they can work longer hours (apparently some places refuse to shut off, even in the face of a storm). The George Washington University has been closed early. Everywhere I go I see students, staff, citizens frantically scurrying like ants before a thunderstorm that threatens to wash them away. Many stock up on necessary supplies, bottled water, toilet paper, and Jif, extraordinarily crunchy non-oily peanut butter, to spread on Grandma’s famous family pancakes. Everyone is determined to survive ‘Snowzilla’.

Unlike most of my college friends, I had been invited to see Jonas out off campus, with my friends the Thomas family in Northern Virginia. The three days I spent there just flew. Whether it be sitting down to a breakfast feast of buttermilk pancakes served with bacon, blueberries and dripping in ounces of maple syrup or Maine blueberry sauce -all washed down with a cup of real American coffee; jonas11appealing to Jonas’s softer side with Americana tunes such as “My Way” by Sinatra on the Steinway; spontaneous snow fights in 30 inches of snow before an enchanting mid-afternoon sun; or learning to use a snow blower with Jonas at my heels: it was a terrific experience I won’t forget. The Thomas’ epitomize the ultimate hospitable American family. The warmth and generosity I experienced made me feel like I was back home. Let me tell you, they have three very lucky Shi-Tzu dogs.jonas10

 

 

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The positive thing about otherwise reckless snow storms, like Jonas, is they give people the opportunity to slow down. We live in a very fast paced life, and every now and again it’s important to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Although I didn’t take part, a lot of my friends back on George Washington City Campus participated in a snow man making competition in Kogan Plaza. I can visualize exchange and residential students alike frolicking carelessly amidst the powdery white, like children in an enormous sand pit. For some, no doubt, it would have been their first time experiencing snow. According to social media, such outbursts of public interaction were to be seen everywhere Jonas traversed. Meanwhile, back in Virginia, one of the Thomas’, Jenny, and I stayed up until long after the witching hour to complete a 1000 piece puzzle of an American newsstand. So although a lot of homeless people were inconvenienced by his wrath, Jonas’ legacy is that he gave many the opportunity to catch up on some rose-smelling.

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Thanks Jonas.

PS: Perhaps you’d consider making a little reappearance in early May? Right around the time of my finals would suit me just fine…

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